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[ The PC Guide | System Care Guide | Backups and Disaster Recovery | Backup Methods, Devices and Media ]

Removable Storage Drives

In the last few years, a whole new class of storage devices has sprung up and become very popular--removable storage drives. While these have existed in various forms for many years, it is only recently that they have taken the market by storm. Their popularity rests in their ability to provide removable storage at a reasonable price and with good performance. Many of these drives are also very suitable to use for backups.

There are so many different drives, and they differ in so many different ways that a complete look at all of them (at least one that would be fair) is far beyond the scope of this section. (I hope to add a full chapter in the Reference Guide that will look at these drives at some point in the future.) Looking at the various characteristics of these drives, we see that many of them are suitable for backup purposes, but some really are not. The drives fall into several categories, which I will look at briefly:

  • Large Floppy Disk Equivalent Drives: This would include the Iomega Zip drive, Syquest's EZ-135, the LS-120 120 MB floppy drive, and a few others. These devices are suitable for backup only if you have a small hard disk, or have the diligence and patience to do attended backups or large numbers of partial backups. As hard disks increase in size to 4 GB and beyond, trying to do backups to a device that is only a little more than 100 MB becomes impractical, and quite expensive. The reliability of these devices is quite good, although they are proprietary and not very universal. Their performance is general poor to average.
  • Removable Hard Disk Equivalent Drives: This category includes devices such as Iomega's Jaz drive, Syquest's SyJet, and various kinds of phase-change and magneto-optical drives. These are much more suitable for use as backup devices due to their larger capacity, but even here things are becoming stretched, since even 500 MB to 1 GB is becoming inadequate for unattended backups. These drives have generally much higher performance than the smaller drives, and much higher price tags to go with them. Reliability is usually good, and the drives are still proprietary.
  • CD-Recordable: These are write-once read-many drives with a capacity of about 650 MB, described in detail here. Despite the fact that the disks are not reusable, some people actually use them for backup, now that the price of blank disks has gone down to around $3 a piece or so. This is a very expensive way to do backups; it does give you the advantage of being able to refer back to historical snapshots of your disk for a long time, but you're really going to pay for it. The cost will discourage most people from doing backups often enough. The capacity is on the small side at 650 MB. One great advantage is that the backups are readable by any CD-ROM drive. I do not recommend CD-R for routine backups, because the cost of media over time is excessive. This will discourage you from doing backups on a regular basis, which is the last thing you want.
  • CD-Rewriteable: This drive is really in the same category as the removable hard disk equivalents listed above. CD-RW has a lot going for it as a general-purpose medium, because of its flexibility: its media are reusable and it can also burn CD-Rs that play in most CD-ROMs or audio CDs as well. But as a strictly backup medium, I don't think it has a lot to recommend it. It is not inexpensive, the capacity is only so-so at 650 MB, and the CD-RW disks are essentially proprietary since only newer CD-ROM drives will read them. It's certainly usable for backup, but other options may be better if you don't need the other advantages of CD-RW.

Next: Removable Hard Disks

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